Tag Archives: Texas

Schools should engage in Social Media, but think through policies and procedures first

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Post by: Kim Stephens

Currently, I am helping the Department of Education develop training on social media for their 2011 REMS Grantees (Readiness in Emergency Management for Schools). Since my interest in this area is already piqued, I found this recent story from Texas interesting: “State Sets Social Media Ethics Rules for Educators“.

‘On Dec. 26, new state rules take effect that say educators must refrain from inappropriate communication with a student, including use of cellphones, text messaging, e-mail, instant messaging, blogging or other social networking.’  …Many Texas school districts, including Birdville, Keller, Hurst-Euless-Bedford and Mansfield, are changing their policies and procedures to give educators more guidance.We understand and recognize that social media tools are tremendous assets in education,’said Richie Escovedo, Mansfield schools spokesman.

‘It’s a situation where the technology has outpaced the laws and everybody is still trying to get caught up. Everything we can do to help our teachers recognize the potential pitfalls will help us be in good shape.’

This story demonstrates that social media can be a very personal medium, so people should be careful who they invite into that space. I have advised teachers not to “friend” students–ever. But, on the other hand, social media can be used in a fully professional manner if implemented correctly. This might be a case where the State was caught off guard by not having implemented a policy in the first place and therefore, have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bath water. (This story is from TX so a few colloquialism should be permitted.)

I believe schools should use social media to connect with their community because it’s where the people are: pew research indicates 81% of adults with school age kids use social media. Some goals schools might set when using social media  are:

  1. Increased two-way communications
  2. Improved responsiveness to parents needs/concerns
  3. Improved engagement with community, which might lead to increased awareness of school programs and activities, and potentially even increased volunteerism
  4. and finally, improved flow of information to the community during an emergency.

Regarding the last point, people will turn to social media for information during a crisis whether or not the school or district is posting in that medium. (See this story where people turned to social media for information about a hostage situation in a school because “most of major news networks didn’t pick up the story until 8pm.”) In other words, don’t be left out of the conversation during a crisis or others will fill the void.

But as important as I think it is to be engaged in social media, I don’t think any institution should just get a Facebook page and call it a day.  It is key to think through the following first:

  1. How will social media complement your institution’s current communications strategy?
  2. What types of information do you want to provide?
  3. What types of information might you receive?
  4. What will you consider markers of success?
  1. Who will be delivering messages through social media platforms: schools, district or both?
  2. Who will be responsible for clearing content posted on sites?
  3. Who will be allowed to contribute non-crisis information? (processes and procedures should be spelled out)
  4. Who will be responsible for monitoring social media?
  5. How will information obtained through social media be fed back to those administrators or incident commanders that will need to react/respond or take action?

One additional item, comment policies that establish expectations of parents and students should be written and posted. I would recommend providing information about those expectations to students and parents during orientations and assemblies, not just through written policy statements online. (Lather, rinse, repeat.)

Although this might seem like a lot of work–an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Texas town, a best practice in use of social media

QR Code for "An internet of things"

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The new buzz phrase of the day is “open government”. At the national level this has led to many new initiatives, one of which is the DHS sponsored National Dialogue on Preparedness. This site allows people to submit ideas regarding preparedness grant programs and incentives. They encourage people to address:  “Which grant programs have been successful in building preparedness capabilities? Which programs can be improved? How can we effectively balance local emergency management needs with national mandates for security and resiliency?” People can vote on ideas with a virtual thumbs up or thumbs down.

At the local level,  Manor, Texas (population 5600) near Austin, Texas is using social media in many ways, not just Facebook, twitter, etc. but also for collaboration or “opening government,” similar to the DHS initiative. In Manor, good ideas can result in actual prizes (see “getting credit for your contribution”) in an effort to garner as much participation as possible. Their collaboration effort, called “Manor Labs,”  is described on their website as “an open innovation platform designed to allow you to help us solve problems that plague our local government...” The idea submission system is powered by the proprietary software Spigit and is worth perusing.

Manor is also currently engaged in a six month pilot program to test  a two-way communications platform which will allow citizens to send information to responders  during a crisis. This initiative is also powered by proprietary software developed by Civiguard. It will be interesting to see the results.

Another one of their initiatives is a system called  “QR-codes”. The White Paper entitled “Redefining Government Communication with QR-Codes” gives a complete account of the capability, but in general it is a bar-code system that allows users to receive on-demand information via their smart phone and a hyperlink:

After installing free decoding software (listed in the resources section), an individual can scan a City of Manor QR-code with their camera phone. They are taken directly to the linked site or prompted with the embedded URL. Although each QR-code appears to be the same image, each links to separate websites relevant to their location and placement.

An example of how it will be used:

Eventually, the City of Manor will tie the QR-codes on city vehicles into a realtime work order system so that if a resident is curious about why a city vehicle is in their neighborhood, they could simply scan the side of the vehicle for a real-time work order update. This would bring a layer of transparency to government that was never possible before.

I have not listed all of their initiatives, but I encourage anyone interested to take a look at what all this very small Texas town has been able to accomplish.